No one ever got an immediate ecstatic lift out of a Low album, but then, for the past two decades, that’s been the whole point. Through a slow and sometimes grindingly meticulous examination of love, fear, loneliness, death and other spokes in the human drama, frontman and guitarist Alan Sparhawk has always seemed to find hope waiting patiently on the other side.
The Invisible Way, the trio’s tenth effort (and its second with bassist and keyboardist Steve Garrington), follows a similar path, with a few twists. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy lends a light but palpable touch as producer, creating wide-open space for the quiet acoustic guitar and piano of “Plastic Cup,” as well as the chilling tribute “Clarence White” (a tragic hero of the California folk scene, killed in 1973) and the epic “On My Own”—the latter containing the album’s lone shock of overdriven guitar that’s normally a staple of Low’s sound. Drummer (and Sparhawk’s spouse) Mimi Parker sings lead on five songs, and makes the ballad “So Blue” a hypnotic anthem of yearning.
As part of Wordless Music’s roving concert series—once lauded by a certain East Village publication as only “moderately snooty” in its attempts to fuse the indie underground with modern classical music—Low will share the stage with the ACME string quartet. It’s an apt pairing; ACME played with energy and daring in a performance of Steve Reich’s string quartets last September. Sparhawk thrives on the same qualities, and after 20 years he’s still uncovering new ways to transcend the weight of the world.—Bill Murphy
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